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AOC changes constitution to recognise indigenous heritage

Author imageAOC09 May 2015
AOC changes constitution to recognise indigenous heritage

AOC: Members at the Australian Olympic Committee Annual General Meeting in Sydney today have unanimously voted to amend the Constitution to recognise the nation’s first people.

AOC: Members at the Australian Olympic Committee Annual General Meeting in Sydney today have unanimously voted to amend the Constitution to recognise the nation’s first people.

The new passage in the AOC Constitution reads: “To recognise the heritage, culture and contribution of our nation’s first people and to give practical support to indigenous reconciliation through sport.” 

AOC President John Coates began the process last year after Prime Minister, the Hon Tony Abbott had challenged national leaders to recognise indigenous heritage.   

As well as the changes to the Constitution, the wording of the Team values developed by the AOC Athletes’ Commission has been amended and the AOC has engaged with the Cathy Freeman Foundation and the Indigenous Marathon Project run by Robert de Castella to provide practical long-term assistance. 

VIEW GALLERY from AGM with Nova Peris, Uncle Allen Madden and John Coates>>>

Before the vote, Coates told the meeting how the Australian Olympic Movement could be proud of previous recognition and support of indigenous Olympians. 

“Remember, it was Cathy Freeman who lit the cauldron at the Opening Ceremony of the Sydney Olympics,” Coates said. 

“We also decided that the Sydney 2000 Olympic Torch Relay would commence its 27,000 kilometre passage across Australia at the ancient rock of Uluru in the presence of the traditional custodians and with a barefoot Nova Peris, joined by her nine year old daughter, Jessica running the first leg.” 

Senator Nova Peris, who became Australia’s first indigenous gold medallist as part of the hockey team in 1996, before representing in athletics in 2000, thanked the AOC and John Coates for their leadership and spoke at the meeting on behalf of the 43 indigenous Olympians and future Olympians. 

“I congratulate the Australian Olympic Committee for amending your constitution to recognise the heritage, culture and contribution of our nation’s first people and to include respect for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people - the first people of Australia - in the Australian Olympic Team values,” Senator Peris said. 

“This simple act now includes our people as part of Australia’s rich sporting family, its heritage and tradition. 

“This simple act today makes me proud to be an Australian, it makes me proud to be an Olympian, it makes me proud to be Aboriginal and to represent the oldest continuous living culture on earth.” 

She thanked the Aboriginal sporting heroes who had gone before her with special tribute to Michael Ah Matt, who also came from her hometown of Darwin, as the ‘trailblazer for indigenous Olympians’ when he competed in basketball at the Tokyo Games in 1964. 

And to the first black women who represented Australia in sport when they played cricket internationally in 1934 and 1935. 

Senator Peris spoke of the need for change to the Australian Constitution and for all Australians to work for this change. 

Des Abbott (Beijing 2008, hockey bronze) and Baeden Choppy (Atlanta, hockey bronze) were the other indigenous Olympians in attendance at the AGM. In total eight Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders have won 12 medals for Australia. The first being swimmer Samantha Riley with bronze at Barcelona 1992. 

Prime Minister Abbott has thrown his support behind the initiatives of the Australian Olympic Committee. 

“I applaud this vote which will be another step on our national journey to recognition,” Abbott told the AGM via a video message. 

“You also know that symbolism and practical action go hand in hand. That’s why I am also delighted that the AOC is supporting the Government’s Remote School Attendance strategy to encourage more children to attend school. Because as we know the foundations of success are always the same. Education, jobs and a safe living environment. 

“Together we will help the next generation of indigenous children to be the best they possibly can be.” 

Opposition leader Bill Shorten also strongly backs these important steps of reconciliation. 

“I also support the inclusion of respect for indigenous heritage in the Olympic Team values, which provides a platform for the pursuit of human endeavour, sporting excellence and inclusion,” Shorten wrote to the AOC. 

“Sport is a significant part of the Australian way of life. It offers a unique opportunity for all Australians to participate as equals and has been an important conduit to build teamwork, fairness respect and equality among all Australians – all vital to achieving reconciliation. 

“Our Olympians have inspired the nation, lifted our spirits and driven great pride in our nation and we recognise sport has been an area of high achievement for our Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander sporting heroes. 

“I encourage all sporting organisations, both national and local, to follow the lead of the AOC and embrace symbolic change which will drive fairness, teamwork and equality on and off the sporting field and build an inclusive Australia where everyone can take part.”

London 2012 hockey Olympian Joel Carroll, and cousin of Des Abbott, told the AOC this week.

“It definitely makes me feel special being one of 43 indigenous athletes, but I would like that number to be higher,” the athlete targeting a second Olympics in 2016 said.

Carroll had a video conferencing session with children at a remote school in the Northern Territory this week as part of the AOC Education Program, Chat to a Champ. He told them how he never thought he would leave Darwin and now his sport has taken him around the world.

“Discipline is very important. Eating healthy, not drinking, not smoking, no drugs. Discipline is a very big thing in becoming an elite athlete.”

The AOC will continue to work with the Cathy Freeman Foundation, Indigenous Marathon Project, government and other agencies to inspire indigenous children in remote communities.

Indigenous rugby player Tanisha Stanton who hopes to be selected for the Australian team for the Rio 2016 Games hosted a video produced by the Seven Network that recognised all 43 indigenous Olympians.

There are indigenous athletes in several sports chasing 2016 selection.

The A.S.P.I.R.E. values which Olympians of summer, winter and youth teams adhere to has also been updated with the Athletes’ Commission endorsing the proposal to the value within the word Respect to read: “I respect sport, the efforts of my competitors, my team mates and officials. I respect Australia and its indigenous heritage. I respect our nation’s Olympic past and the spirit of Olympism.”    

Gadigal Elder Uncle Allen Madden conducted a very warm Welcome to Country to start the meeting. This will now form part of AOC protocol. 

READ the Indigenous Information pack provided to all AGM attendees>>>

WATCH a tribute video to all 43 Indigenous Olympians and read the full list of 43 athletes here>>>

WATCH Nova Peris' AGM Speech in full >>>

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